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University of Chicago Department of Athletics & Recreation

Sickle Cell Trait Information

About Sickle Cell Trait

  • Sickle cell trait is an inherited condition of the oxygen-carrying protein, hemoglobin, in the red blood cells.
  • Sickle cell trait is a common condition (more than three million Americans).
  • Although Sickle cell trait is most predominant in African-Americans and those of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Indian, Caribbean, and South and Central American ancestry, persons of all races and ancestry may test positive for sickle cell trait.
  • Sickle cell trait is usually benign, but during intense, sustained exercise, hypoxia (lack of oxygen) in the muscles may cause red blood cells to change from a normal disc shape to a crescent or "sickle" shape, which can accumulate in the bloodstream and obstruct blood vessels, leading to collapse from the rapid breakdown of muscles starved of blood.
  • This can lead to exercise related complications such as dehydration, heat illness, but also life-threatening injury to the body's organ's (liver, kidneys, heart) and/or death.


Sickle Cell Trait Testing

Although Sickle Cell Trait screening is normally performed on all U.S. babies at birth, many student-athletes may not know whether they have the trait. Following the recommendations of the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) and the College of American Pathologists (CAP), if the trait is not known, the NCAA recommends athletics departments confirm Sickle Cell Trait status in all student-athletes during the Medical Examination period.

The University of Chicago requires that all student-athletes must be tested for sickle cell trait, show proof of a prior test or sign a waiver releasing the institution from liability if they decline to be tested. The new rule has been in effect since the 2010-11 academic year. Athletes who are known to be sickle cell trait carriers are not at risk of exclusion from participation; but education and modification in training or competition will be provided as needed.

Acceptable examples of proof are: Patient's medical records, Sickledex, Hemoglobinopathy screening (using high performance liquid chromatography [HPLC] or using DNA-based methods), Newborn screen.